No one can do period pieces as well as Starz does. The cable network has, throughout the years, shown that they are capable of competing against the biggest studios in television in this specific genre. In Outlander, for example, they have managed to create one of the most visually rich and narratively exquisite shows on television. This time, the network is getting ready to do it once again with The Serpent Queen, a new drama set in France in 1560. This is a review of this new show. Can Starz do it once again?
The Serpent Queen is a television series developed for Starz by Justin Haythe and stars Samanthan Morton, Senna Nanua, Amrita Acharia, Antonia Clarke, and Charles Dance. The series tells the story of Catherine de Medici as she becomes Queen of France after being thrown around Europe during her childhood and then sold to the French crown as a way to unite the kingdoms and prevent bloodshed. Catherine must then face her new home with wit and intelligence as she tries to overcome the fact that he comes from the most hated family in Europe.
The Serpent Queen feels very similar to many other period dramas. History is basically an endless source of entertainment. There are so many events and characters involved in such crazy and intense events that you could adapt them all to television and movies and never run out of ideas. The Serpent Queen does a good job at doing it by getting under its belt a great cast of actors, fantastic pacing, and solid writing.
It is in this regard that the series tries to stand out from its peers. It is clear the show doesn’t have the big budget that so many others have, and so they need to come up with something else to make people watch and keep watching. The writers have decided to opt for a very conscious and entertaining tone, one that sits in between something like Game of Thrones in seriousness, but never really approaches the comedy antics of The Great.
So, The Serpent Queen moves between being cheeky and being serious. It has a great tone, and it is also very consistent because the episodes never go into any of the extremes. So, every time you end up watching something quite intense or uncomfortable, you can bet that there is something quite lighthearted coming your way. The same can be said in the opposite direction. For some, this might create a bit of whiplash, but the show is subtle in the way it moves through these tones, so it is never an issue.
One of the elements that make the show shine so much when it comes to writing is the actors. They manage to deliver their lines with confidence and energy. Samantha Morton is always good, of course. Her presence just gives the show more cache, than the rest of the actors. Even when they fall into the unknown category, they all do an excellent job of creating these characters that are quite interesting because of how twisted they are.
The old aristocracy was all perversions and pity struggles. It is really baffling to understand that these could have ruled the world for so many years before people rose up and took them down with violence. The exploration of the many secrets and lies these people lived and told makes for good drama. You can be sure that for every good thing you see depicted on the show, there are ten more that are just creepy as hell. We, humans, are a strange and vicious kind.
So, if the actors are good, and the writing is solid, what is bringing this series down? Well, it is hard to say that the show will be brought down. However, if there is something that might put it under so many other shows, it is the clear lack of budget. Some of the costumes especially look very cheap. Maybe it is a commentary on how the opulence of these humans was all really a lie, but nevertheless, the cheapness and some costumes are a distraction.
The same with some sets. It is obvious that some of the most spectacular scenes were shot for a short time, and then they had to close themselves up in a studio, which makes the setting feel almost claustrophobic. Perhaps a bit more money could fix all these issues and make the show feel more real, and less like a theater play. Many period series really have a hard time making their setting believable. It is hard, of course. Outlander has done it very well. Surely The Serpent Queen can do it as well.
The Serpent Queen is a very entertaining, funny, and sad exploration of aristocracy in the Europe of 1560. The series has amazing actors, and the writing is snappy and fun. This makes the show stand out from other similar offerings in today’s streaming network war. It might not be as memorable as other series, but it makes for great entertainment if that is the only thing you are looking for in your historical fiction.